While driving home from work on Colorado’s US 34 in terrible (as usual) traffic, I received two texts from my husband, Mark, that said:
“They found a mass in my lung”
I read the texts and almost rear-ended the car in front of me after. I thought to myself, “A what? A mass?? My 29-year old husband could have a tumor in his lung … a cancerous one.”
At that point, I started to disassociate from reality and panic, so I quickly turned down a side road and sped home. That entire drive home felt as if it took forever to get home to him despite speeding down the country roads back home.
See, we had just returned from a camping trip in Alaska, and Mark strained his shoulder picking up a bag. He went in for an x-ray at a local urgent care and came out with the discovery of an unknown, large mass in his lung (the size of an egg) that was situated in between three pulmonary arteries.
How could Mark have a tumor? Is it cancerous? What the hell is happening? These thoughts were circling in my slowly dissociating mind. After a biopsy, it turned out to be a non-aggressive, slow-growing, typical neuroendocrine cancer snugly sitting in his right lung’s lower lobe.
After many sleepless nights, three separate hospital stays that resulted in a total of almost three weeks, lots of blood, fluids and tears, uniportal vats surgery, and two surgeries over three months, Mark is cancer-free and recovering. Luckily, he didn’t need chemo or radiation, but the idea that this rare type of cancer was developing in him since his early twenties with no symptoms was (and still is) an absolutely terrifying thought.
We believe the turmoil has finally ended, and normalcy looks to be within our grasps again, but it was such a strange, emotional and deadening three months. It feels as if the Alaska trip we took in the summer was years ago.
The journey isn’t over as he still has to heal and regain his ability to breathe normally as well as take it easy to avoid any further mishaps. You can never truly prepare for such terrible, medical surprises such as this, but here are 5 things I’ve learned from the experience:
The possibility that something absolutely terrible could happen during surgery I didn’t want to let go of his hand right before he was wheeled off into surgery, and when I did, it struck me that if one of those pulmonary arteries was accidentally cut, then he could very well bleed out, and I could very well be a widow. However, you must trust the doctors and medical staff to do what they think is best as well as keep your mind occupied while waiting for it to be over. The panic that loomed over me was too vast for me to even face, but luckily the surgery went well despite it being one of the most difficult surgeries the surgeon has experienced.
Understanding how he/she feels about his/her body and situation When I was told that Mark has cancer and must undergo an intense and life-changing surgery, I felt absolutely useless and helpless. I tried and tried to act positive and somewhat normal around him, but in the end, he was the one who had to go through the procedures, stay in the hospital for days or weeks, and face the potential for reoccurrance. The best you can do is stay as strong as possible while keeping on top of those main priorities, such as bills, pets, cleaning and work. Gently remind your spouse that it is okay to let out emotion and stress in front of you and to encourage it.
Physical and mental impacts of the entire experience It’s all said and done, right? Not so much. The healing process for lung surgery is delicate and long-term. Mark lost his right lung’s lower lobe in the surgery and can easily tell that he can’t breathe in as deep as before and gets winded easier. Understanding his new needs and limitations takes some time to adjust to especially since we’re both not even 30 years old. With patience, support and laughter, it makes it easier for them to retain control and adjust to their environment again.
The number of people who care about you We all get locked into our normal routine of waking up, working, cleaning, eating, sleeping, etc. to the point of taking for granted your relationships with other people. After Mark was diagnosed with cancer, we had outpouring support from family, friends both near and far, coworkers and neighbors. It brought tears to our eyes when Mark’s coworkers donated money to help with future medical bills as well as using Meal Trains to deliver fresh, hot food to us on a daily basis. We were touched when friends would text or call one of us to ask how we were doing along with having neighbors offer to help with yard and housework. It opened our eyes to just how many people care about and support us while going through these absolutely stressful events.
Life pre- and post-cancer and surgery Mark looks at life with a different viewpoint after his experience with these events where he is wiser with the concept of mortality, living life and overall love, which isn’t surprising. Getting back up to speed with work and exercise is going to be a rough, but not impossible road. After he completely heals, he wants to train to hike his third Colorado 14er (a mountain over 14,000 feet) next year as a goal … and I’ll be right there beside him along the way.
I hope this brings comfort to others who are dealing with a loved one who has a debilitating illness as you are not alone. I highly recommend finding support groups and legit research articles out there and not click on the first result that pops up in Google Search. My love and strength to you.
We’d like to give a shout-out to the amazing medical and nursing staff at Medical Center of the Rockies and UCHealth. Dr. Ronald Smith is one of only a handful of surgeons in the U.S. who can perform the type of noninvasive surgery Mark experienced. Thank you all for taking care of Mark and making him laugh during his long, long days and nights in the hospital.